Sunday, August 27, 2006

I still respect Steve Sailer tremendously, but his writing on Iran of late has been borderline idiotic.

For those of you who have spent the last year in cave on Mars with your eyes shut tight and wearing cotton in your ears, Iran is a country that is (1) hell-bent on the acquisition of nuclear weapons and (2) swearing global jihad and, specifically, to wipe Israel off the map.

Sailer's response is to tap is fingers together and say, well, what do they mean really.

First it was a post comparing the conventional weaponry of Iran with that of other SW Asian countries and U. S., with no reference at all to its present effort to "go nuclear." Pardon me, but this is like someone who, confronted with an enemy armed with a machine gun, tries to take comfort in the fact his slingshot isn't all that great.

Then it was a post on trying to pick a target for an Iranian invasion from Iran's immediate neighbors and smugly asserting that Iran would never invade, say, Turkey. Of course, Israel doesn't border Iran. Neither does the U. S.

Finally, this weekend, a post (no permalink yet) that said, well, imagine if Iran conquered Mexico and Canada (presumably to introduce democracy, as we have done in Iraq and Afganistan). This is his strongest argument yet . . . until one remembers that:
(1) Iran in its public statements has not claimed to fear imminent American invasion because of Iraq and Afganistan. On the contrary, Iran probably calculates (and probably correctly) that our ongoing difficulties there make an invasion of Iran less likely.
(2) The only reason that action against Iran is even a possibility is that it is seeking nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapons that Sailer insists are merely defensive.

This reminds me of the comments I submitted in response to a post by Razib Khan over at Nation Building. Razib makes the entirely reasonable point, in reference to Iran, that the nature of intra-national political competition does not select for individuals prone to suicidal risk. Fair enough. But as I wrote then:
Iran and NK ran a substantial risk in pursuing nuclear weapons in the first place. Indeed, given the demonstrated will and means of the U. S. to destroy regimes that attempt to acquire them (Saddam Hussein's), their nuclear programs were suicidally risky, once you note that they appear to be safe bets only in hindsight. So the Iranian and NK appetite for risk in the pursuit of their objectives is demonstrably substantial.
Why is it that we are to invest Iran, whose leadership seems willing to risk its very existence in the pursuit of nuclear weapons, with an almost pristine rationality once it gets them? Why is nuclear non-proliferation, a cornerstone of American foreign policy for 50 years, so glibly cast aside? Sailer writes that the idea that "we must run any risk to be safe" is false. This is a cute formulation, but unless the content of his criticism goes beyond a concern that we get the cost-benefit and risk-analysis right, it doesn't actually address the central issue: what will the effect of a nuclear-armed Iran be on American interests?

UPDATE: In fairness to Steve, he now has a new post that at least asks the right questions, although I think his determination to exclude Israel from any calculus of American interests has cramped his imagination.

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